Dear Carolyn: Halloween costuming seems to have gotten more complex over the years with a number of people being offended for reasons I cannot comprehend. Additionally, I have two foreign exchange students living with me who have never celebrated Halloween before and seem excited about it. I have explained that costumes came about originally as a way to scare off the evil spirits that people believed were free to walk the earth on All Hallows' Eve. Scary costumes seem pretty straightforward, but then the rules get murky. There was a huge commotion about a not-Asian girl wearing a kimono. One of my girls brought a traditional dress from her home country to show us and now wonders if she could wear it as a Halloween costume. On one hand, she is from that country so it should be okay to wear it, right? On the other hand, it really isn't a costume meant for Halloween. Help me out here, please.

— Murky

Murky: It’s actually not that murky, I don’t think.

Do dress up as something. Do not dress up as a member of a race, ethnicity or culture of which you are not a member.


And when in doubt, ask yourself, is this hurting or foreseeably insulting anyone, mocking anyone or condescending to anyone?

It’s not perfect, but it’s well-meaning without everyone having to be an M&M.

Re: Costumes: You can absolutely comprehend it, if you take time to read/hear and understand the offense. There's even a catchy slogan: "My Culture Is Not Your Costume."

— Catchy

Re: Costumes: Also: Is your costume neutral, or does it punch up or down? If it punches down, that’s a solid no-go. Google to see the foreclosure firm whose employees dressed up as homeless people. Punching up may also be a problem, but punching down always will be.

— Anonymous

Anonymous: Yesssss. I was trying to figure out a way to explain why, for example, “hobo” is not a culture but also not an option. But I couldn’t get there, so I skipped it. “Don’t punch down.” Simple, elegant, clear. Thank you.

Re: Costumes: What I'm getting is: Teach your kids about respecting all cultures, but when they want to emulate that culture (in a respectful way), tell them they can't because they aren't that culture. Talk about mixed messages.

— Mixed

Anonymous: Wait, no. The unmixed message is that Halloween-costume treatment does not meet the standard of “in a respectful way.” It’s not a parenthetical; it’s the point.

Re: Costumes: What about dressing up as a pirate, a witch, a fireman, a football player . . . when you're definitely not part of the culture of any of these. A pumpkin? Is that okay? Tell us what sorts of costumes ARE okay for Halloween.

— What About

What About: You are being deliberately obtuse. Stop.

Re: Costumes: This reminds me of the men who think the #MeToo movement will prevent them from ever having a professional relationship with a woman. "Woe is me, how can we possibly understand what is to be expected of us!"

— Anonymous

Anonymous: Bingo. Damn.

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